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100-year-old coins to save chandeliers

Tokens used to rent Żejtun church chairs are being sold

Video: Jason Borg

A coin that a century ago would have secured you a chair at the Żejtun parish church is being sold as a collectible to raise funds for the restoration of its chandeliers.

In the late 1920s, those who wanted to sit down during religious functions such as Christmas and Lenten sermons had to ‘rent’ a chair for a farthing.

The proceeds from these donations went towards the upkeep of the chairs, and in a similar fashion, the token that replaced this farthing for a five-year spell is now being used to complete a restoration project. It will also fund two new fjokkijiet – ornaments that hang over church chandeliers.

Although most of those who remember this token have passed away, Carmel Baldacchino, 77, remembers older parishioners speaking about the coin.

Since he does not remember the token itself, he set about documenting people’s accounts of how this once popular token became forbidden.

In the beginning of the 20th century, chairs were stacked on top of each other next to the church’s main door. Just before the function started, a man lowered the chairs with a rope, one by one, for a farthing each.

“But when the cost of living increased and farthings were scarce, churchgoers did not have exact change, so they would hand out, say, a penny, and book chairs for occasions,” Mr Baldacchino told this newspaper, sitting on a bench outside the Żejtun church.

However, one of the three people in charge of the parish, Dun Spir Grixti, soon came up with a solution to the shortage of farthings. He asked a man,Giovanni Critien, to make 6,000 aluminium tokens with ‘ Żeitun’ on them, each equivalent to a farthing, so that churchgoers could pay for their chair without needing any change.

The sellers would then change these tokens at the parish church for actual currency

“However, these coins became so popular that they started being used in shops in Żejtun, and the sellers would then change these tokens at the parish church for actual currency.

“Everything went smoothly for some five years, until people tried to use the coins outside of Żejtun; and it is believed that one day, dockyard workers insisted on paying for a cup of tea with this token in Cospicua.

“It is believed this led to a quarrel and someone reported the ‘fake coin’. The civil authorities gave the parish two weeks to collect the coins in circulation.”

The collected tokens and a bag full of coins that were never used remained stored for decades, until the church’s nine chandeliers needed to be restored.

In 2011, sacristan Paul Zammit remembered the ‘forbidden coins’, and thought they could, once again, be used to raise funds for the upkeep of the church’s ornaments. The coins started being sold to collectors, Mr Zammit said, and supplemented benefactors’ donations to restore the chandeliers.

The next – and last – part of the project is the redesign of the fjokkijiet for the two largest chandeliers.

For those who would like to help with the donations and get a hold of these Żeitun coins, Mr Zammit may be contacted on 7931 2053.

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